Thursday, June 23, 2016

Aquinas on capital punishment


Audio versions of many of the talks from the recent workshop in Newburgh, New York on the theme Aquinas on Politics are available online.  My talk was on the subject of Aquinas on the death penalty (with a bit at the end about Aquinas’s views about abortion).  I say a little in the talk about the forthcoming book on Catholicism and capital punishment that I have co-authored with political scientist Joseph Bessette.  More on that soon.

Links to my various articles and blog posts on capital punishment are collected here.

18 comments:

Geremia said...

What does St. Thomas, or perhaps St. Alphonsus di Liguori, think about States hostile to the Church administering the death penalty?

Kiel said...

Either the audio is bad or you're sounding a little sick. Either way, thanks for sharing this and hope you're well. Can't wait for the book.

Craig Payne said...

Dear Geremia: Throughout the Middle Ages, it was the state that administered the death penalty for the most part, not the Church.

Dear DNW: Nice literary touches.

Geremia said...

@Craig Payne: Yes, but those States were not "hostile to the Church." They recognized the authority of the Church in moral and religious matters.

My question is: Can atheist States justly administer the death penalty?

Timocrates said...


@ Geremia,

"My question is: Can atheist States justly administer the death penalty?"

Yes, abstractly; practically, of course not. In fact, seeing as there are no Christian states left, the death penalty is 'de facto' a form of murder for the unwanted.

Richard said...

Craig, not to split hairs, but it was only ever the state- and never the Church- who administered the death penalty.

That said, the Church established the judicial system (which, of course, our modern courts owe their existence to) in order be able to justly declare judgement on a person. The state would use the infoemation provided by the ecclesiastical tribunals amd determine if a person would be a danger to tbe state and punish accordingly.

Joh said...

Dr. Feser talks about vengeance being sometimes a virtue in Aquinas's thought. How can this be reconciled with Jesus's rejection of lex talionis, e.g., Mt 5:38–39?

Brandon said...

Joh,

As Aquinas understands it, vindicatio or 'vengeance', as it is sometimes translated, is about making sure that injustice is punished, but he does not think it applies to wrongs against oneself alone (the proper response to those is patience instead). It's concerned with getting justice for others or protecting common good.

Anonymous said...

http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/pont-messages/2016/documents/papa-francesco_20160621_videomessaggio-vi-congresso-contro-pena-di-morte.html

The pope just called for the end of the death penalty.

Based on what he says, I don't think he believes in life in prison w/o parol.

-Neil Parille

Anonymous said...

I don't think he believes in life in prison w/o parole is acceptable either.

Robert Byers said...

Capital punishment must be mandatory for all murderers . If the murdererer is not killed then its being established that the one murdered did not have value as a human being made in Gods image and with a natural right to life.
Thats why when murderers are not killed very soon they don't want them imprisoned for long. Why bother especially if they are unlikely to murder again.
Any sympathy , prohibited in the bible, for a murderers and so behind opposition to capital punishment is simply the rejection of the value of that killed persons life and soul.

Edward Feser said...

OK, so having now deleted all the completely irrelevant comments that have been posted over the last few days, I've reduced the comments from 46 to 11. Sigh. That's what I get sometimes for light moderation.

No further threadjacks, please. KEEP IT ON TOPIC.

Gerard O'Neill said...

KEEP IT ON TOPIC

Ok then. Does Bill Donohue believe in the death penalty?

JM Cabaniss said...

Can an atheist behave morally? Of course. Can an atheist state behave morally? Same answer. Either capital punishment is moral or it isn't, but if it is then its use by an atheist state is moral. If it is not then its use by even the Vatican State would be immoral. We know capital punishment is not intrinsically evil so if the intent behind its use is not disordered then its (appropriate) use is valid regardless of the nature of the state that employs it.

DNW said...

"Edward Feser said...

OK, so having now deleted all the completely irrelevant comments that have been posted over the last few days, I've reduced the comments from 46 to 11. Sigh. That's what I get sometimes for light moderation.

No further threadjacks, please. KEEP IT ON TOPIC.

June 28, 2016 at 5:15 PM"



Well, we figured that while you were off and preoccupied we'd just borrow the keys to the front door, the car, and the liquor cabinet. Too bad you came back so soon. Should have seen the pool party we had planned.

DavidM said...

Wunderbar! I was hoping these might be available. Thanks.

Timocrates said...

I am simply alarmed by some Catholic philosophers propensity for assuming that the Pope since Pope St. John Paul the Great have been mis- or ill-informed about whether or not the modern states can seriously and legitimately apply the death penalty. Their resounding and unanimous no should be reflected upon more carefully.

I personally think one of the most reprehensible things a Freemason is asked to do at their initiation ceremony is effectively swear to consent to their own murder, being torn viciously to pieces as by some animal. I find it equally alarming that while nearly all Catholic philosophers are abhorred at the state of systemic dysfunction and immorality in the 'high places' and citadels of power, they notwithstanding insist on even a right for these same people to put other people to death. They have been weighed, measured and found wanting: No, they have no right to put anyone to death.

That, or we fall into the quasi-Sedevacantist waste hole of organizations like the SSPX where the Pope is or has been the prisoner of the Vatican since maybe the 50's or so, and is woefully uninformed or misinformed about the state of the contemporary world. Absolutely ludicrous, of course, as the universal Church is of course present virtually everywhere and in constant contact and communication with the Holy See.

We can all agree that there have been great social changes especially since about the 1960s. We can all also agree that following these wide-reaching changes, the Holy Fathers have been unanimous in their belief that the death penalty cannot be legitimately applied by the modern state. Perhaps there is a reason for this shift also. The modern state is quite happy to grant licenses to kill even the innocent; indeed, to even chalk it up to a veritable right. Why anyone would think these same people can be reasonably imagined to be competent in meting out the death penalty according to justice is totally beyond me.

arkansasreactionary said...

There is no basis in Catholic teaching for the idea that non-Catholic states have less internal authority than Catholic states. Modern states have the same authority under natural law as any other.

And the "we can't trust them with that power" argument is balderdash. The state has the power, by definition. The idea that we can magically make it so that the state is really unable to kill is a liberal fantasy.